Phillies' Ruiz eager to start at catcher again
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz, one of the last remaining members of the team's glory years, is eager to win his starting job back this spring in what's likely his final season with the Phillies.
Ruiz has been working with pitchers and fellow catchers the past week since camp opened in Clearwater, Florida. In 2015, his 10th season with the Phillies, Ruiz hit .211 in 86 games and lost the majority of playing time to Cameron Rupp.
''That was my goal, to play every day, because I believe I can still play every day,'' said Ruiz, who has played his entire career with the Phillies. ''But it's not my control, the only thing I have control of is what I do on the field. I'm ready, so we'll see what happens when the games start.''
The 37-year-old Ruiz is the oldest player in camp and is four years removed from his All-Star season of 2012, when he had career highs in batting average (.325), home runs (16) and OPS (.935) in 114 games. In the three years since, Ruiz has batted .245 with 13 home runs and an OPS of .667 in 288 games.
Ruiz is in camp as one of two players, along with first baseman Ryan Howard, that played on the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. The current clubhouse at Bright House Field in Clearwater is mostly populated with prospects and promising 20-somethings trying to establish their footing within the organization.
''I like being around the young guys,'' Ruiz said. ''They make me feel young, too.''
Two of those young players in camp are catchers rated among the Phillies' top prospects: Andrew Knapp, a switch hitter and former second round pick, and Jorge Alfaro, a power-hitting right-handed hitter who came over in the July trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas. Neither of those players are expected to break camp with the team, but they could arrive in the big leagues at some point in 2016.
Ruiz's chief competitor for playing time once the regular season begins is Rupp, a 27-year-old former third round pick who hit .233 with nine home runs and a .675 OPS in 81 games last season.
First-year Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has said the regular job will likely go to whoever ''plays the best'' in Clearwater. But, Mackanin, a long-time coach on the Phillies staff in two different stints with the team since 2009, is aware of Ruiz's track record, too.
''He caught in two World Series. He caught (four) no-hitters. He has one of the best work ethics of any player I've ever been around,'' Mackanin said. ''He is one of the most pleasant people to be around. He doesn't take his offense behind the plate with him. He takes a lot of pride in his defense and game-calling ability. That's something that's rare to find. That's a winning catcher.''
It's been nearly 18 years since Ruiz first joined the Phillies as an amateur teenage infielder out of Panama on an $8,000 signing bonus. He has more than made that investment worth it for the franchise.
Ruiz enters the 2016 season on the third year of a three-year, $26 million contract, which includes a $4.5 million club option for 2017 and a $500,000 buyout. The team is almost certainly going to exercise the buyout, as they did with Cliff Lee this past winter and surely will with Howard following the 2016 season, too.
The future may be uncertain, but Ruiz would like to have the opportunity to leave the game where it started: in a Phillies uniform.
''This organization is part of my life,'' Ruiz said. ''My goal is to retire here. But, you know, it's not only me it's also the front office and I don't know what they think. So I'll just play hard, try to do my best and hopefully stay here.''